Although it remains well short of a seismic shift, there are increasing signs that the traditional makeup of the hunting community is changing. For those who have seen past national survey data for hunters and anglers, you know that the biggest bubble on the participation curve has always been represented by 40+ year-old white males. Until recently, the only changes which have been seen in this curve is that the 40+ age plurality had become 50+ years of age.
Recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics suggest, however, that the number of female hunters has increased an estimated 25% between 2005 and 2011. As of 2011, women now represent 11% of all hunters, up from 9% just five years earlier. This number exceeds the projections which were made only four years earlier in the 2010 Southwick Associates study on Hunter Number Projections which had forecast a flat-to-declining percentage of overall participation by women (Table 3, Page 5).
Add to this the national effort to engage youth hunters and anglers, the growing enthusiasm for archery and the shooting sports, the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, and the growing interest in wild game within the gourmet cooking community and voilà, a recipe for success begins to emerge.
According to survey data collected by Responsive Management, “Female hunters were twice as likely as male hunters to hunt for meat (47% female, 22% male).” These data seem to connect well to other Michigan-based initiatives such as the Gourmet Gone Wild program.
Gourmet Gone Wild has hosted a series of events which offer professionally prepared wild game and fish. These events are typically geared to young professionals who may not otherwise be exposed to the health and lifestyle benefits of wild fish and game, as well as the important role hunters and anglers play in the management of said fish and wildlife.
Those who scoff at the idea that movies such as The Hunger Games series could impact interest in archery and hunting should recall the effect that the movie “A River Runs Through It” had on fly fishing. I know of more than one crusty old angler (okay, besides me) who recalls how empty many of our northern Michigan streams had traditionally been in the blissful weeks following the annual trout opener weekend before “A River” debuted, and how active our trout streams have become in the 25+ years since.
In a November 27, 2013 segment appearing on NPR’s Morning Edition, Denise Parker, CEO of USA Archery was quoted as saying that the boom following the original The Hunger Games movie in 2012 caught many by surprise. “We didn’t see that coming,” she says. “We’ve had archery in other movies, but never kind of that whole momentum at one time.” In this story by Grace Hood, Denise Parker is also quoted as saying that overall membership in USA Archery has more than doubled during the past two years.
Clearly, there is no way of knowing to what extent each of these initiatives or cultural phenomenons are having on hunter recruitment or which have been the most effective. The point is, it doesn’t really matter. After all, it appears to be the collective which is contributing to this change and we need an “all of the above” approach. Even if this level of current growth becomes unsustainable, the educational benefits derived from this exposure will serve our nation well when issues emerge which require a new generation of conservation and hunting/angling advocates. Let’s keep throwing the ideas on the wall — it appears some of them are beginning to stick.